From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Erica C. Gomez‘s essay on the “readership” and active interpretation of film. She notes, “Reading film is an action that extends outward, producing new lines of movement through publics and counterpublics.” This article was originally published on December 4, 2013.
Ever since the Lumière brothers’ 1895 public film screening, rapid changes have marked the film exhibition and distribution industries. Cinema continues to provide sites for public gathering, even though the experience of film viewing has undergone a significant transformation over the course of more than a century. In order to develop a more nuanced understanding of the changing landscape of film—and a vocabulary capable of expressing multiple perspectives, experiences, and contexts that relate to it—it is necessary to distinguish between the terms viewership and readership.
Given the common understanding of a film’s viewership as including the particular accumulated public, or fan base, of a filmmaker or actor, as well as a larger, more diverse audience united by a film’s genre or intersecting themes, one might easily conclude that a film’s readership refers to its literary content. Yet, perhaps the most widely accepted notion of film readership is one that has been institutionalized within the sphere of academia. Targeting a specific audience, and perhaps excluding many more with its jargon-laden rhetoric, academic film theory dominates one end of the readership spectrum while film criticism maintains an equally strong position on the opposite end. Given the generally limited understanding of what readership can entail, and the few forums in which the term is used with regard to film, it is necessary to work backward and begin with a closer examination of the reader before one can consider the broader application of film readership.